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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Sylvie and the Songman* by Tim Binding- young readers book review
Sylvie and the Songman
by Tim Binding
Ages 9-12 352 pages David Fickling Books August 2009 Hardcover    

The enchanting power of music and sounds fills this children’s fantasy as the characters enter a magical yet foreboding world. Sylvie, an eleven-year-old girl, lives with her widowed father and her loyal dog, Mr. Jackson. Her closest friend, George, is a chubby boy with a special talent for making kites. Sylvie’s father is a musician in a London orchestra and an experimental composer.

Father and daughter commute daily to London on the train filled with mysterious passengers, always passing by a fox which seems to watch them with special interest. As Mr. Jackson loses his voice and the other animals in the zoo become mute, the air of mystery and suspense grows, as if something spectacular yet mystifying is about to commence.

Sylvie’s father captures the unique sounds of nature using one-of-a-kind mechanical instruments of his own invention. One evening, the combination of all these wondrous sounds creates a magnificent, supernatural musical note. The next day after school, Sylvie returns home to an empty house; her father is nowhere to be seen.

When she commutes alone to school the next day, the fox is gone, and the passengers on the train take an extraordinary interest in Sylvie. Frightened, Sylvie enlists the help of George after school and together they begin to realize that the mystery of her father’s disappearance is linked not only with his music, but also the voices of the animals.

After gently being bitten by the fox, Sylvie can hear the voices of the animals, beginning with the fox and Mr. Jackson. They speak in a mixed up English-like language - “we stoddy and stanker/ Floddy and flanker/Hum and honken/burrodug plonken” - which is difficult to decipher at the beginning but easier to comprehend as the story moves forward and the context of the animal language is understood.

As Sylvie and George investigate her father’s disappearance, sinister characters begin stalking them. Eventually captured, Sylvie and George are brought to a mysterious lighthouse island and meet the Songman, who wants Sylvie to reveal the secret of her father’s musical discovery. This innovation is the key the Songman needs to control the voices and lives of the animals - and will allow him to dominate the world.

The Songman entices Sylvie with a beautiful song he has composed especially for her, generating an addiction-like power over Sylvie and luring into the Songman’s power almost to the threshold of revealing the secret. With a climactic, fast-paced ending, with the help of George and his kites, Sylvie regains her confidence, overcomes the Songman’s influence, and rescues her father.

Wonderful illustrations support this exciting fantasy bringing the images of this magical world into the mind of the reader. Although the British expressions and animal language may be difficult for American children to recognize at the beginning, they do not weigh down the narrative but instead add a unique flavor to the story.

Filled with fully developed, unique characters, Sylvie and the Songman also contains lots of fast-paced action with unexpected turns of events in a clever mix of a world of magic and reality, good and evil. The long chapters become a bit tedious at times, but children who love fantasy will not mind as Binding’s descriptive language builds a grand adventure within a distinctive world.
Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

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  Kristine Wildner/2009 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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